I said right at the beginning of my writing this blog that I would write about retirement as it came, the good, the bad and the ugly. Yes, that is weighted two to one towards the negative which perhaps goes some way towards explaining why these blogs may have been a tad on the negative side of late. The other explanation is, of course, that I am a miserable old git. Who knows where the truth lies. Anyway, this blog is going to err on the side of the positive, hence the title. As is often the case with these blogs, a couple of things came together to prompt the topic of the blog. In this case, a newspaper article and an idea from Mrs Summerhouse. The article was broadly about what makes people happy when they’re retired and the idea from Mrs SH was that we should be counting our blessings. Let me explain.
I have written recently about being a bit over-whelmed by all of our commitments, some like the vineyard and this blog and Mrs SH’s art we have chosen to engage in. Others like the gardening business and preparing my late mother’s house for sale, have been thrust upon us. The other weekend we were feeling definitely down in the dumps about it all mainly as a result of factors to do with the business and slow progress on the house. We were taking the pups for their usual morning walk and Mrs Summerhouse said something like, I’m fed up with all this, where is the fun in our lives? Quite remarkable for her who typically pursues the look on the bright side of life, philosophy. It gave us both pause for thought. A bit later she announced she had been thinking and what we needed was to count our blessings – of which, she reckoned, there were many. And who am I to disagree. I don’t propose to go into any detail about the positives of our life, in my opinion there is nothing more boring than somebody bleating on about how great things are, how wonderful their life is and how well they have done. Yuck. I also have this very serious view that this kind of smugness just invites disaster. If you’re feeling good about things then, for God’s sake keep it to yourself, don’t even whisper it.
But I will just say that we are reasonably healthy (diabetes apart), are reasonable well off financially apart from spending money on my late mother’s house and we are mostly enjoying our retirement apart again from that nagging doubt that there is something out there that we are missing. This counting our blessings business does not come easy for me, however, whereas for Mrs SH it’s simply (?) a return to her default life position. For me I need to work much harder and turn the negatives into positives. The negatives being those areas of our retirement we have had, as I used the phrase, thrust upon us – the house and the gardening business (which we have not yet bought but are running although it’s fairly low key at the moment for obvious reasons, ie. it’s winter, another blog or two to come on this). To reframe these negatives, as we ex psychologists sometimes say, I need to see both of these activities as projects. If you’ve read these blogs before you will know that I’m a great fan of projects. They are the way to happiness or as close to it as I am ever likely to get. So in an effort to take control back of these areas, I am seeing them as projects. In the most-simple terms this means that both these areas are time-limited. Also in line with the idea of projects they have clear goals.
In terms of fixing up the house, for the first time this week, with my project hat on, we both felt that we had reached the tipping point. We are nowhere near finished but it feels like we are on the downward slope, we have momentum, if not quite lift off. We may be kidding ourselves but we think the end is in sight – whisper it. The gardening business, well that will have to wait a while. I’ll tell you what we’ve been doing in the vineyard in the next vineyard blog. The blogs and Mrs SH’s art keep on coming, so that’s pretty good. I wouldn’t call it happiness but then this is not a word I use much at the best of times and this is where the newspaper article comes into the picture. The paper reported on an article about happiness and kicked off by stating that ‘we are at our most miserable between the ages of 50 and 54 and that happiness doesn’t come round again until you’re aged 65 – 79’. Thank God, I read this I might have got to 79 and then realised I’d missed all that happiness. Now I know about this research I can safely look forward to another 12 years of the stuff. The article also quoted a guy called Paul Dolan (he’s a professor) who had written a self-help book called Happiness by Design and one of his bits of advice was to avoid buying self-help books because they make you miserable (I paraphrase slightly but not much, he said, they don’t work and merely encourage people to buy another self-help book, other than his of course). So how much credibility to give to the rest of his advice –‘It’s (happiness) all about changing what you do to do more of the things we like,’ wow, is that stating the bleedin’ obvious or is it just me resorting to old git type again? Anyway, he goes on, ‘listen to music, go out-doors, meet friends and new people. If everybody did that every day, we’d be a lot happier.’ Wow, again, we wouldn’t get much else done but we would be deliriously happy. So Mrs SH and I should be at least two thirds happy – we listen to music, walk the pups; meeting friends and new people every day come up a bit short but I should be well on the way. Oh, and having a sense of purpose is good, according to the article, so that’s where the projects come in.
So there we have it, I’m in the middle of the happiest period of my life but I must confess I’m not happy about it, it all feels a bit trite really. But as this is a positive blog, let me finish on a positive note. Last article quote – ‘find things which make you feel good, then do more of them.’ As an ex-psychologist the sloppiness of the word ‘good’ makes me feel bad, it’s too vague but, stop right there, I’m finishing on a positive note but you can see how hard it is for this retired person but that’s just me.